Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Schmidt's warriors prove the Irish ticker's in grand shape

Out of reach: The outstanding Peter O’Mahony (left) won the battle of the captains at the breakdown
Out of reach: The outstanding Peter O’Mahony (left) won the battle of the captains at the breakdown

By Tony Ward

Andy Farrell suggested: "We'll see what the good old Irish ticker's about" in advance and by God in Melbourne's AAMI Stadium we did and how.

Rugby round up Newsletter

Game previews, plus expert insights and exclusive commentary from the Belfast Telegraph sports team.

For a Michael Cheika coached team to be out bullied by so many of his former charges on their own patch showed just where this ever growing Irish squad is now at. And just as he did at Leinster when succeeding the current Wallaby coach Joe Schmidt has taken 'collective performance' to a new level.

It's not pretty to watch and I'm not going to pretend otherwise but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I love what I'm seeing in the search for Irish success and specifically the build up towards Japan in 12 months time.

For now let us concentrate on a Melbournian job well done. The hosts finished as they started Saturday's game (at a rate of knots) but in between they were all but demolished by the team in green.

When it comes to tactical intelligence, as in thinking and acting in the heat of the moment, the Australians have long led the way. If ever the balance between fire in the belly but ice in the mind applied to a rugby playing nation then Australia is it. In that key respect but so many others as well the Wallaby class of 2018 came up short specifically when the heat was on.

There were so many incidents but in terms of a match turning moment Bernard Foley's quick tap penalty and pass to Michael Hooper in isolation, resulting in the outstanding Peter O'Mahony winning the battle of the captains at the breakdown, set the definitive tone.

O'Mahony who along with CJ Stander finished the season disappointingly for Munster returned with his fellow back rower to the level they must always demand of themselves and of each other. It was certainly a close call between the Irish skipper and Tadgh Furlong for Man of the Match although I have to say the latter too was at that belligerent bullying best.

Indeed take your pick from O'Mahony, Furlong, Stander as well as both half backs and little wonder despite the misleading score line that Ireland won so convincingly. Conor Murray was his usual controlling presence with the cut out pass for Andrew Conway's try the essence of that Murray mint cool best.

The scrum half was good but Sexton was even better again. This was one of his great games in green whereby he oozed leadership and control. He was everything his opposite number wasn't.

When Sexton is firing nobody controls the pivotal position and Sexton the perfect fit for a still developing squad with the potential to challenge the AB's in a little over a year's time.

The other key factor in Saturday's win was the ability to maximise the numerical advantage specifically when the Aussies were reduced to 14 in the opening quarter. That is the ruthless mindset inculcated by Schmidt but driven by Sexton. And while the Dan Leavy factor wasn't as marked as it might have been (due in the main to O'Mahony's dominance over both Hooper and David Pocock at the breakdown) his presence still gives an effective balance to the back row alongside the Munster duo. And no we're not forgetting Sean O'Brien or Tadgh Beirne now on the way.

Jordi Murphy, Rhys Ruddock and Josh van der Flier too have so much to offer and while Jack Conan may be down he is far from out. The only non selection I don't get is that of Sean Cronin. Quite how you go from being shadow hooker to the skipper (Rory Best) to number three on this tour based apparently on one scrum I find difficult to fathom.

Scrummaging is Greg Feek's specialist field and the ultimate call Schmidt's to make but for impact off the bench Cronin fits the Carbery/Jordan Larmour mould better than any other hooker at this point in time.

I feel for Cronin in his current predicament and Saturday's win will not have helped his mindset.

Beyond that I am fuming over Conway's injury shipped while in the act of scoring.

It was not self inflicted as has been suggested in some reports. Is it going to take a really serious injury before World Rugby addresses what is and has long been a blight on the game.

Apart from having your arms trapped at the bottom of a ruck I cannot think of a more exposed and as a consequence more vulnerable position for any player than when crossing for a try.

I couldn't tell you when I last saw a match official restart a game by way of a penalty on the half way line to the scoring side. Here for sure is a very real ­cancer on the game as we know it.

All roads now lead to Sydney and I expect the Irish Diaspora to be there in droves. It's been one hell of a long season but the prize for one more week's hard graft is massive and as a potential building block towards Japan incalculable.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph